By THE IRRAWADDY / September 12, 2016
CHIANG MAI, Thailand — A half-day meeting in Chiang Mai attended by the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) and the Ta’ang National Party (TNP) in a bid to resolve an almost year-long conflict over territory in northern Shan State has yielded positive results, the organizations’ spokespeople said on Monday.
Tar Hla Pe, a central committee member of the TNP and a Shan State parliamentarian, said the meeting was the “first step in finding solutions to help the local people” who he likened to “victims trapped between two buffalos,” a phrase used to describe being forced into a situation of conflict and suffering.
Tar Hla Pe told The Irrawaddy that he hopes his party will be able to act as a mediator “by bridging the gap between the two groups,” referring to the RCSS and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA). He is a close friend of RCSS’s vice chief of staff Brig-Gen Pao Khay and said that both men want a ceasefire agreement and stability in the state.
Attendees also included: Chairman Lt-Gen Yawd Serk and vice chair Gen Sai Yi—both of the RCSS—and Tar Aye Maung of the TNP’s central Committee, as well as ethnic Ta’ang (Palaung) monks from the Ta’ang Sangha Central Committee.
Fighting continued on Monday between the TNLA and RCSS in Shan State’s Maimaw Township, according to Tar Hla Pe. Firefights between the two groups, along with TNLA clashes with Burma Army, have displaced thousands of local Ta’ang in the area.
RCSS Lt-Col and spokesperson Sai Ngin said the group had experienced casualties during the conflict but did not reveal the exact number.
Sai Ngin said the two groups had reached an understanding not to consider the conflict as a struggle between two ethnic groups, addressing how it was referred to on social media earlier this year.
Ta’ang monks participated in the Monday meeting out of concern for local residents’ education. Sixty-two schools have been closed in northern Shan State due to the conflict, as well as a number in towns in the southern part of the state including Mong Kai, Kholam, Mong Ton and Kesi.
Pyinna Thiri, a monk who joined the meeting, said they would work together to ensure access to education, medical treatment and water.
Participants said that building mutual understanding through negotiations would provide the best outcomes for the people of Shan State. RCSS chairman Yawd Serk added, “such negotiations need to be held often to bring an end to the conflict.”